Retained as Indian men’s boxing’s High Performance Director after few months of deliberation and discussion, Santiago Nieva says the immediate focus in his second stint would be to rebuild the team which hit a low by ending medal-less in the Tokyo Olympics. The Argentine-born Swede is expected to be back in the country in a week after being offered a fresh contract, which had ended last year following a three-month extension post the Olympics. His performance will be reviewed at the end of every year till the 2024 Paris Games.
“Even my last contract had provision for annual review and this one will be no different. I am awaiting paperwork from Sports Authority of India (SAI) after which I will return to India, that should be another week,” Nieva told PTI from Sweden.
His position came under considerable pressure in the aftermath of the Tokyo Games where none of the five Indian male boxers, including world number one Amit Panghal, could go past the preliminary stage.
The result was particularly shocking given that the same set of pugilists had delivered unprecedented medal hauls in prestigious events such as the Asian Games and the world championships.
The Boxing Federation of India (BFI) was expectedly “dissatisfied” with the performance and its top officials talked about Nieva’s contract extension being a remote possibility.
However, he managed to come out of the review unscathed even though his women’s team counterpart Rafaelle Bergamasco lost his job.
“My conversations with the federation have been positive so far. Yes, there were long discussions but they were good. We agreed that we have to rebuild some of the things and pursue continuity in some others. We agreed on this,” Nieva said.
WILL PUSH FOR FULL-TIME PSYCHOLOGIST IN CAMP
The Tokyo performance was like a punch in the gut which came at a time when the sport and everyone associated with it were at their most optimistic thanks to some brilliant results against world-class opponents.
Panghal was considered a sure-shot medal winner in the 52kg category after besting all his stronger contemporaries in events prior to the Games.
But he was literally out-punched in Tokyo in the first round itself by 2016 Games’ light flyweight silver-medallist Yurberjen Herney Mart nez Rivas.
Nieva said there have been several rounds of deliberation on the fiasco and yet clear answers are not easy to come by.
However, he acknowledged that BFI President Ajay Singh’s assessment of boxers being overawed by the massive stage was not completely off the mark.
“We have discussed Tokyo as well. We all wanted medals but nobody had the answer to this specific question on what went wrong,” he said.
“It’s not mathematics where answers will be in black and white. We agreed that certain aspects need improvement,” he explained.
So what are the specifics of this rebuilding process that he has discussed with the BFI?
“The pandemic is a major challenge in itself. Once again competitive boxing is taking a hit because of resurgence in cases and we all know how crucial competition is. We need to ensure that boxers get enough competition whether outside or in India. There are a few more things which I will elaborate later,” he said.
“I would also like a psychologist attached to the camp but it has to be the right person because trust is a major factor. We obviously lack in several aspects and we will improve.
“A full-time nutritionist and yes, we need strength and conditioning experts that we had for some time before Tokyo Olympics but have lost after the Games,” he added.
NEW WEIGHT CATEGORIES: IT’S TOO MANY, SAYS NIEVA
The International Boxing Association (IBA) rejigged weight categories for both men and women last year.
The total number of divisions for men now stands at 13 with the addition of three new categories.
The world body says it would make life easier for boxers as they jump weights as per their body’s growth. Several boxers agree with that.
But Nieva feels it is one too many although he expects the move to work in favour of India going forward.
“I believe 12 is more than enough at the maximum. 13 is too many and several countries will struggle to field teams but for India it is good because we have a huge talent pool and it won’t be difficult to find boxers to fill the team up,” he assessed.
“But overall, this is going to make it more costly for federations to have competitions, and there would just too many bouts in a day which would be a tough schedule for everyone,” he said.